Thomas Hardy : folklore and resistance
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This thesis examines a range of folkloric customs and beliefs that play a pivotal role in Hardy’s fiction: overlooking, sympathetic magic, hag-riding, tree ‘totemism’, skimmington-riding, bonfire nights, mumming, May Day celebrations, Midsummer divination, and the ‘Portland Custom’. For each of these, it offers a background survey bringing the customs or beliefs forward in time into Victorian Dorset, and examines how they have been represented in written texts – in literature, newspapers, county histories, folklore books, the work of the Folklore Society, archival documents, and letters – in the context of Hardy’s repeated insistence on the authenticity of his own accounts of these traditions. In doing so, the thesis both explores Hardy’s work, primarily his prose fiction, as a means to understand the ‘folklore’ (a word coined in the decade of Hardy’s birth) of southwestern England, and at the same time reconsiders the novels in the light of the folkloric elements. The thesis also argues that Hardy treats folklore in dynamic ways that open up more questions and tensions than many of his contemporaries chose to recognise. Hardy portrays folkloric custom and belief from the perspective of one who has lived and moved within ‘folk culture’, but he also distances himself (or his narrators) by commenting on folkloric material in contemporary anthropological terms that serve to destabilize a fixed (author)itative narrative voice. The interplay between the two perspectives, coupled with Hardy’s commitment to showing folk culture in flux, demonstrates his continuing resistance to what he viewed as the reductive ways of thinking about folklore adopted by prominent folklorists (and personal friends) such as Edward Clodd, Andrew Lang, and James Frazer. This thesis seeks to explore these tensions and to show how Hardy’s efforts to resist what he described as ‘excellently neat’ answers open up wider cultural questions about the nature of belief, progress, and change.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: Electronic copy restricted until 19th May 2019
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations